Shropshire Star

Housing and office plans for landmark Telford building

A Victorian landmark is could be converted into housing, offices and a community hall, if plans are approved.

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The Gower, on Gower Street, St Georges, Telford, operated as a school for 80 years. Picture: Alex Moore for LDRS.

The grade II listed Gower School House, in St Georges, Telford, was built in 1873 and originally served as a cottage hospital before converting into a school and later being used as a youth club.

Nuplace Ltd, a Telford and Wrekin Council-owned housing provider, has applied to refurbish the building, add three flats and community facilities inside it and build 10 two-bedroom houses at its rear.

Last December parts of the authority-owned building and the playground behind it were designated as an 'asset of community value' (ACV).

In a report for the borough’s planning committee, council officers say this does not protect it from development, as a replacement playground is proposed nearby and the new indoor community facilities would be a “significant improvement” on what is there now.

The committee will meet on Wednesday, November 17.

In their report, which recommends approval, planners write: “The building is currently disused but has a lawful use as a community hall having previously been used as a youth club until 2004.”

A consultation on an earlier version of the plans, which proposed an additional four new-build apartments, attracted 38 public objections and a petition in August.

The report says concerns included “overlooking of homes and gardens, loss of privacy and light”, the loss of the play equipment and the view that “the building should be solely for community benefit, and housing will restrict use”.

Amended plans without the extra flats were filed in October, triggering a re-consultation that ended on Monday, November 8.

Officers note that six consultees from the earlier round got back in touch and said their views were unchanged.

In October 2020 the St Georges Community Group applied to have the entire site – on Gower Street, between the junctions with Albion Street and Walker Crescent – listed as an ACV under the 2011 Localism Act. Two months later, Telford and Wrekin Council agreed to grant the status to the northern wing of the building and the garden and play areas in its rear yard only.

The planners’ report says this was done “on the basis that their main use has recently been to further the social wellbeing of the local community”.

It adds: “An ACV listing does not place any restrictions on what the owner can do with their property. It is planning policy that determines permitted uses for sites.

“It is open to the local planning authority to decide that listing as an ACV is a material consideration if an application for change of use is submitted.

“The current proposal seeks to retain the community use of the northern wing, expanded into the rear section of the central area in the form of a community hall with lobby area, toilets and a kitchen area. The first floor would be converted into office space with a meeting room to be occupied by the parish council.

“It is accepted that the play facilities would be removed from this site but that the scheme would be obligated to provide a financial contribution to replace these facilities, with a replacement site proposed at the site of the former women’s institute.”

In a separate application currently under consideration, the authority has applied to demolish the WI building less than half a mile away from the Gower to make way for a new playground.

Converting the remainder of the building into flats will “represent a net loss of community floorspace”, the report admits, but notes that “a financial appraisal demonstrates a standalone conversion to community use would not be viable”.

“In addition, weight is given to the significant improvement in the quality of the community facility from its current condition,” officers add.

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